Michigan v Syracuse

2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 7 Syracuse Orange

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 30-10, 11-7 Big East (5th); Lost to Michigan in the Final Four

Head Coach: Jim Boeheim (35th season Syracuse: 920-313 overall, 362-191 Big East)

Key Losses: Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche, James Southerland

Newcomers: Tyler Ennis, Michael Gbinije, Tyler Roberson, B.J. Johnson, Ron Patterson, Chinonso Obokoh

Projected Lineup

G: Tyler Ennis, Fr.
G: Michael Gbinije, So.
F: C.J. Fair, Sr.
F: Jerami Grant, So.
C: Rakeem Christmas, Jr.
Bench: Trevor Cooney, So.; Tyler Roberson, Fr.; B.J. Johnson, Fr.; Ron Patterson, Fr.; DaJuan Coleman, So.; Baye Keita, Sr.

They’ll be good because …: Once again, this Syracuse roster is loaded with the kind of talent that fits perfectly into the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim utilizes. He’s got seven front court players on his roster, and with the exception of DaJuan Coleman, all of them are terrific athletes with wingspans reminiscent of a pterodactyl. The back court isn’t quite as deep, but Boeheim still has a slew of bigger guards on his roster, and while it will be difficult to replace Michael Carter-Williams’ disruptiveness on the defensive end of the floor, the Orange still figure to be tough to score on in their zone. The fact that they’re making the move to the ACC, where most of their league opponents won’t be accustomed to playing against that zone, certainly doesn’t hurt.

The offensive end is going to be tougher to figure out. C.J. Fair is one of the nation’s most underrated players, as he averaged 14.5 points and 6.9 boards for a Final Four team a year ago. The 6-foot-8 lefty should be Boeheim’s leading scorer this season. It will be interesting to see who steps up in his supporting cast. Jerami Grant played a lot of promising minutes when he got the chance last season, Trevor Cooney is a better shooter than he showed last year, Duke transfer Michael Gbinije was a top 30 recruit coming out of high school and Tyler Ennis has all kinds of promise. Looking at this roster optimistically, there’s a lot to like here.

source:
C.J. Fair (Getty Images) and Tyler Ennis (Syracuse Athletics)

But they might disappoint because …: Outside of Fair, there really isn’t a proven commodity on this roster, meaning there is a lot that can go wrong. What is neither Cooney nor Gbinije become reliable perimeter shooters? What if Grant doesn’t take the jump we all expect out of him? What if Boeheim continues to struggle to find any kind of consistency from his trio of centers?

The bigger concern revolves around Ennis. He’s a freshman. He’s also the only true point guard that Syracuse has on their roster, and he’s replacing an all-american that averaged 7.3 assists and 2.8 steals. Carter-Williams had his flaws, and they were exposed late in Big East play last season, but he was still an insanely talented player — he got the Orange a lot of easy shots and was a terror defensively — that played some of his best basketball during the NCAA tournament. Those are big shoes for Ennis to fill, especially when you consider that Syracuse does not have a lot of guys that can create for themselves. The pressure on his shoulders this season will be immense.

Outlook: The ACC is loaded this season, particularly at the top of the league. While most will peg the Orange a contender alongside both Duke and North Carolina, it’s important to note that both Notre Dame and Virginia are good enough that they could end up piecing together a top two or three finish in the league. In other words, the margin of error for the Orange is going to be pretty small, as it was in recent years in the Big East.

I like the Orange this year. I think they have the pieces to put together a successful inaugural run through Tobacco Road. But there are a lot of new parts on that roster, and it’s easy to see how some of those pieces could have some trouble coming together. If Ennis is overwhelmed at the point and Cooney and Gbinije struggle offensively, the Orange aren’t going to be able to score the ball. But if Ennis lives up to the hype, Coleman and Grant have breakout sophomore seasons, and Syracuse is able to knock down some perimeter jumpers, this is very much a team that can make a run to the Final Four.

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.